February is Dental Health Month and a good time to reflect on best practices for keeping our children’s teeth and gums healthy for their lifetime. Unfortunately, dental disease is still a large concern. Cavities in toddlers and preschoolers are on the rise with nationwide dentists reporting findings of preschoolers having 6-10 cavities. 84% of 17 year olds have dental caries and 60% of 15 year olds have experienced gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. So what CAN we do to protect our children’s and our own, teeth?
Brush and floss. These golden standards cannot be ignored. Dentists recommend brushing teeth for TWO MINUTES twice a day. A fluoride toothpaste should be used for children who are able to brush their teeth without swallowing the toothpaste. Flossing often gets ignored, but is important to remove food stuck between the teeth to help prevent cavities and gum disease.
Limit Sugar. Sugar on teeth is the number one cause of tooth decay. It is important not only to limit sugar, but also to be conscious of when you are eating it. When sugary foods are consumed frequently throughout the day, the teeth are constantly bathed in the sugar promoting tooth decay. Sugary gum, mints, hard candy, etc. are especially harmful because they keep sugar right on the teeth and dissolve slowly. In order to give your teeth a break from the sugar, many experts recommend taking a 3-hour break between eating sugary foods. Try to eat sugars and starches with a meal instead of on their own. This helps produce more saliva to wash down the sugar from the teeth. If you can’t brush after eating, at least rinse your mouth or chew sugarless gum. When snacking, try to do so on non-sugary food to allow your teeth a break. Finally, once teeth have been brushed at night, drink only water. Any milk or juices will leave the teeth coated in sugar during the night.
Dental Sealants. Sealants can be applied to molars and pre-molars as soon as the permanent teeth erupt. They are quick, easy, and painless. They can generally be applied in a few minutes and can last up to 10 years with proper care. They are invisible and feel the same as the surface of natural teeth. They help protect the grooves and pits in teeth from bacteria and plaque build-up. Accumulated dental plaque can cause gingivitis, destruction of the tooth enamel, and development of cavities.
Teaching your child healthy dental habits early can promote a beautiful smile and strong teeth for their lifetime.